Magpie Woodworks' Maggie forks

I love special weaving tools. Weaving is centered around use of the hands and having tools that are highly functional and also beautiful is such a joy.

I have used a lot of different tapestry forks over the years, but one of my very favorites is made by John Jenkins of Magpie Woodworks. I've been using his forks since my friend and tapestry colleague Lyn Hart told me about them perhaps a decade ago. I pulled out my collection just to see how many I have now. I believe the answer is six which seems rather a treasure trove of these tapestry forks considering you will probably have to wait to get yours. John can only make so many of them at a time! 

The big one on the left is the large, the next two are mediums, the next two are a special size that is sold by C. Cactus Flower Looms, and the last is the mini.

MagpieWoodworksTapestryForks2.jpg

The forks are made from dog comb teeth. The tines are incredibly strong and John does a stunning job of setting the teeth into beautifully worked handles.

I've been talking to John lately about his tapestry forks. He has had to change the sett of the tines of the finer combs due to manufacturing changes in dog combs. Who knew that the dog comb industry would directly impact my tapestry practice! His fine combs used to be 10 tines per inch, but they will now be 11 tpi. There are more specifics about the forks below, but first I want to share John's story. (Note: Caroline Spurgeon is the person who invented the C. Cactus Flower looms and Jude is John's wife.)

Here’s the back-story on my forks. My first forks had wooden tines cut into the handle, like many others. I found this unsatisfactory because the wooden teeth could abrade the warp. My next forks had stainless steel teeth that were individually inserted into the handle. The teeth were not hardened and were easily bent if the fork was dropped. In addition, they were very time consuming to make. Again I wasn’t satisfied. Up to this time I hand shaped the handles. I tried making the forks faster by simply rounding over the edges on a router rather than shaping them by hand. This was a disaster.

While at the Estes show that year, Caroline Spurgeon visited our both and asked for the “nice” forks. To say the least, I was embarrassed. That ended that version. Then one day Jude purchased a pet comb made by Resco. It was an epiphany. I contacted Resco and talked them into letting me purchase small quantities of their unhandled combs. Then all I had to do was put the comb into a handle. This took a lot of contemplation and testing, but I had a “eureka” moment and came up with the current design. Hand-shaping the fork handles was now a given. When the current version of the forks went into production I knew they were the best forks on the planet.
— John Jenkins

 

So the spacing of the teeth of the combs have changed a little bit. Here is what that means when you order. The size warp you are using makes a big difference. If you're using a thin warp like 20/6 or 12/6 cotton seine twine or a similarly sized wool warp such as Brown Sheep at a sett of 8 epi or higher, the 11 tpi fork will work just fine. You won't even notice the difference. (See photo below of different tine spacing.)

But if you like to use a fatter warp, you won't want the 11 tpi comb. The tines are set too closely to accommodate a warp that is fatter like a 12/12 cotton seine twine. Many tapestry weavers like their fat warps, and for them, John makes a fork with 7 tines per inch.

Left to right: 10 tpi, 11 tpi, 7 tpi on the mini

Left to right: 10 tpi, 11 tpi, 7 tpi on the mini

Some specifics directly from John. The 1-3/8" and 7/8" measurements he is referring to are the length of the tines: 

The medium and large forks are available in 5.5, 7, 10, and 11 tpi. The medium 10 tpi forks are available only with 1-3/8” tines instead of 7/8” tines that they’ve had in the past (I’ve been using the longer tines in the large fork for a while now). The mini fork is available in 10, 11, and 12 tpi, all with the shorter tines.
— John Jenkins

I made a video a couple years ago about tapestry forks. Of course not every tapestry weaver uses them. If you're a bobbin user and weave large tapestries, you use your bobbin to pack the wefts in as you weave and probably you give the whole thing a whack now and then with a much heavier fork. If this is you, you might consider one of John's large forks as they are quite heavy. The metal Shannock beaters are extremely popular among this kind of weaver. I think probably those beaters are now traded in back alleys on under cover of darkness. They are no longer made and very difficult to get as weavers hang onto them until they die.

But if you are one of the people who weaves with butterflies on smaller looms, these Maggie forks are perfect. I use them all the time when weaving small pieces and samples on my Mirrix looms. I even use the smaller ones on lap looms from time to time (copper pipe, Hokett, peg looms). And of course I use them when weaving my own work on my low-warp looms. I love the two medium sizes most of the time, but sometimes a mini is perfect for a tight space.

There is something so enjoyable about a tool that is beautifully made and perfectly functional. I can't thank John enough for his marvelous work. 

If you missed that video, here it is again: